“I always wanted the fairy tale, but now I want someone who is a great partner.” ~ Maria Bello
We hear a lot of criticism of chick-flicks, chick-lit, and the Disney movie franchise for giving young women today unrealistic expectations about love.
We hear about how the generations born from the seventies and onwards have grown-up with a sense of entitlement that has given them unrealistic expectations in all areas of their lives, and leaves them unable to appreciate the value of committing to and working on their relationships.
And so lots of ‘common sense’ advice is doled out to people by their family, friends, and the media, seeking to make sure that they understand that life isn’t meant to resemble a fairy tale. That no one actually gets their happy ending, and more folks need to be willing to settle for a relationship that’s good enough while being ready to work hard to keep it that way.
That’s all good and well. Some of it may even be true, but I’m concerned that this barrage of cynicism is having equally damaging effects in other quarters. That there are an equal number of people who are taking this exhortation to settle for imperfection too much heart.
I know of more people than I can count who on the understanding that they’ll never get the fairy tale have settled for way less than anybody ought. Who in the belief that all relationships need work and compromise have given too many chances, and made too many excuses, for partners who’ve committed what should be unquestionably deal-breaking offences.
Through my work I’ve met many, many women who in the beliefs that they shouldn’t be single, and also shouldn’t set their standards unrealistically high, endure relationships characterised by verbal or even physical abuse. No relationship is perfect, and every couple goes through bad patches, they say when questioned on this. Glossing over the fact that all relationships should also have a honeymoon period and times where all in the garden is in fact rosy, something which few of them seem ever to have actually experienced.
Not perfect is too vague a notion. The fairy tale may be unrealistic but it at least provides something to aim for. Some people need that. Because when you tell them they must settle for less in order to be happy they give up hope of even coming close to what they’re really looking for. And then they feel that they must be at fault when their supposedly pragmatic choice leaves them dissatisfied.
They waste years of their lives flogging the dead horses of relationships that should never have lasted beyond the first night they met for drinks in the first place. All the while depriving themselves, and their partners, of the opportunity to find and to be with someone who genuinely makes them happy. Surely everyone really is worth at least that much?
We needed to find a way to convey a more nuanced message to our young people about coupledom. To give them a more balanced picture of what makes for a healthy relationship, one which highlights the rough and the smooth, and teaches them that while most people will have settle for a lot less than the Disney package, nobody should settle for just anything.
Sometimes failure actually is better than compromise.